Congress Border

Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, holds a poster with photos of murder victims Sarah Root and Laken Riley as she speaks on Capitol Hill on Feb. 27. House Republicans have passed a bill that would require federal authorities to detain unauthorized immigrants who have been accused of theft, seizing on the recent death of Riley, a nursing student in Georgia. Mark Schiefelbein/Associated Press, file

WASHINGTON — The House on Thursday passed a bill that would require federal authorities to detain unauthorized immigrants who have been accused of theft, as Republicans seized on the recent death of a nursing student in Georgia to rebuke President Biden’s border policies just hours ahead of his State of the Union address.

After 22-year-old Laken Riley, an Augusta University nursing student, was killed late last month while on a morning run, Republicans rushed the “Laken Riley Act” to the House floor to coincide with Biden’s annual address.

The legislation easily passed, 251-170, with all Republicans and 37 Democrats voting for it. But the nine-page bill was designed more to deliver a political point than to enact law and has little chance of being taken up in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

As immigration becomes a top issue in the presidential election, Republicans are using nearly every tool at their disposal – including impeaching Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas – to condemn how the president has handled immigration. But Biden is also hammering GOP lawmakers for rejecting a bipartisan bill last month that sought to tamp down the number of illegal crossings at the U.S. border with Mexico.

“Republicans will not stand for the release of dangerous criminals into our communities, and that’s exactly what the Biden administration has done,” Republican House Speaker Mike Johnson told Fox News.

Riley’s death has become a rallying point for Donald Trump, the likely GOP presidential nominee, after authorities arrested Jose Ibarra, a Venezuelan man who entered the U.S. illegally and was allowed to stay to pursue his immigration case, on murder and assault charges. He has not yet entered a plea to the charges.


U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement said Ibarra was arrested by New York police in August and charged with acting in a manner to injure a child less than 17 and a motor vehicle license violation. Ibarra was released before ICE could ask New York officials to hold him until immigration authorities could take him into custody, ICE said. New York officials have said they have no record of the arrest.

The legislation would also allow states to sue the federal government if they can demonstrate harm caused by immigrants who enter the country illegally. It was part of a broader push by Republicans to deride immigrants who enter the U.S. illegally and tie them to violent crimes.

Rep. Mike Collins, the Georgia Republican who sponsored the bill, posted on social media this week that he had invited Riley’s parents to the State of the Union address, but they had “chosen to stay home as they grieve the loss of their daughter.”

Per Johnson, “Laken is just one of the tragic examples of innocent American citizens who have lost their lives, been brutally and violently attacked by illegal criminals who are roaming our streets.”

The speaker said his guests for the State of the Union would also include New York City police officers who brawled with migrants in Time Square.

On the whole, however, there is no evidence that immigrants are more prone to violent crime. Several studies have found immigrants commit lower rates of crime than those born in the U.S., though groups that advocate for restrictive immigration policies dispute or dismiss those findings.


One study published by the National Academy of Sciences, based on Texas Department of Public Safety data from 2012 to 2018, reported native-born U.S. residents were more than twice as likely to be arrested for violent crimes than people in the country illegally.

Democrats argued that Republicans have shown they are not serious about enacting border policy changes because they rejected a bipartisan proposal from the Senate that would have overhauled the U.S. asylum system with faster and tougher enforcement. Republicans mostly criticized that bill as insufficient.

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., accused GOP lawmakers of using Riley’s death for political purposes.

“The idea that you would bring a bill like this to the floor to exploit a terrible tragedy – a bill that will do nothing, a bill that you know is going nowhere – is really, really sad,” McGovern said.

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